Sunday, December 05, 2004

What Do You Recommend?

Laura Miller writes and essay in the NY Times about a tricky topic: book recommendations. We all, no doubt, have had a friend or coworker excitedly tell us we should read this great book only to read it and have it be not so great. Miller comments, " The more fervently a friend urges a book on you, the more suspect it becomes, and the more fraught the fact that you almost certainly won't read it." I find this tends to be true. So how to negotiate the tricky waters? "[T]act is in order," suggests Miller. "They should be given sparingly, received gracefully and understood to be a brave attempt to bridge the chasms that separate most people from each other." If someone recommends a book to me and I know or suspect I won't like it, I give a vague noncommittal answer like, "Hmm, sounds interesting." Then I change the subject or disengage from the conversation as quickly as possible. If that person actually gives me her copy of the book to read I haven't figured out a way to get around it. Thankfully this does not happen often. Not all recommendations are bad, however. If someone I know who has similar reading tastes to mine makes a recommendation I am more likely to actually read the book. When it comes to offering recommendations, I never do unless asked. And before I answer I try to think of books I have seen the questioner reading or heard talk about and try to make a recommendation based on that. So far this has worked well for me. No complaints--yet.